12. “Creative” Investments Will Be Key to Long-Term BID Success

A few American BIDs serve more than two municipalities, including this one which includes Philadelphia and Lower Merion Township

There appears to be a widening gap in creativity among BIDs. Some simply don’t progress much beyond the day they opened their doors, while others grow as they capitalize on new opportunities. Those that were leaders in the 1990s, with few additions, remain the leaders today. The most revealing measure of BID creativity is a gradual increase in the assessment formula. Those that grow are unafraid to propose higher charges because their constituencies recognize the value they are receiving.

In Englewood, NJ (pop. 26,200), for instance, after a half dozen years of struggling to retain shops and save an old theatre, a second BID was created that overlapped part of the original one. The latter was used to finance infrastructure required by a retail developer who brought, in addition to some leasable, modem retail space, an anchor supermarket. The place is blossoming.

Strategic investments

BIDs have helped with an often difficult public task – that of preserving local theatres. One small town in New Jersey used its facade upgrading funds to help the operator of a twin neighborhood theatre remain operating – 360 days and nights a year. The Buffalo, NY (pop. 292,600), BID is one of a half dozen financial partners in saving an historic theatre built during the heady days of movie palaces.

A small-town BID in the West acquired a five-story commercial building for a nominal price, and with the assistance of an economic development grant, upgraded the building. It created and sold commercial condos and took some of the space for the BID’s office.

Attorney Robelt Goldsmith, president of Downtown New Jersey, reports that the Morristown (NJ, pop. 18,540) Partnership Board and its executive director “played a significant role in the approvals and development of the Chancery Square redevelopment project.” The Partnership supported a zoning change to increase density for the project, actively lobbied on behalf of the zoning change, and aided the design and approval process before the Planning Board. This resulted in 31 apartments and 11 ,000 square feet of office space.

The Partnership next approached owners who had held five major untenanted properties for a decade. The Partnership first worked with the mayor and council, urging them to undertake redevelopment. Based on the BID’s urging, the town council determined that a key block with numerous vacancies should be found to be an area in need of redevelopment. That led Granite Holding Company to design, plan, and construct 149 market rate rental units and 14,000 square feet of retail. The partnership successfully supported a variance for higher density.

Working with the Parking Authority led to construction of a 700-space parking garage to support $15 million in private improvements to the former Macy’s building, vacant for nine years. Recently, the Partnership supported a mixed-use “transit village” project adjacent to the Morristown train station that will include 200 housing units, 65,000 to 85,000 square feet of retail space, and a 600- to 700-space garage.

Redevelopment authority

Many BIDs are authorized to engage in rehabilitation and redevelopment. New Jersey special improvement districts (SIDs) can be used to payoff bonds for capital improvements. The Pennsylvania Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) law includes similar authority.

With the ability to leverage public or private investment with BID financing, improvement districts can be attractive partners in conceptualizing redevelopment and helping to assure its financial success. Many downtown projects (like the Buffalo theatre) require financial support from various sources. BIDs may become the gap financing tool for a project with several other sources.

A few BIDs already assume leadership for creating Downtown plans, the first step in identifying redevelopment needs and opportunities. BIDs that can purchase properties, borrow for their improvement, and sell them reflect the next stage. Especially in small towns, BIDs can induce important changes through constructive advocacy. The wit, skill, and public relations insights that represent BIDs at their best will take them into new dimensions in the next decade. Not all will advance, but those that dare will produce remarkably more prosperous, convenient, and attractive commercial (and residential) centers than we have as yet envisioned.

Some district marketing is complex.

This logo illustrates the growing sophistication in marketing among even small BIDs

Some BIDs invest heavily to reinforce their brand, such as this one in Manhattan's fashion district

Some BIDs employ top flight professionals to handle their marketing.

Small city BIDs, if well managed like Trenton, NJ's, have a lot to report at year's end.

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